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Chapter Four. War and Credit

By the end of the s, credit card and mortgage debt was financed through securities markets.? The assumed risk of the debt was predicated on models based on data from only a few years, and the combination of more subprime borrowers, larger debt burdens, and floating interest rates created an economy highly sensitive to changes in the interest rate.? While Hyman? Hyman does address the current crisis in the Epilogue, stating that?

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Debtor Nation provides a detailed account of how corporations, banks, and government transformed America? It tells an important and often underemphasized story about the evolution of modern credit and stresses the economic incentives that businesses and politicians faced at every step.? Hyman largely leaves the demand-side of the story to others, but I would have liked to have learned more about the relative magnitude of consumer debt throughout the period.?

In particular, I would have enjoyed seeing how the relative size of mortgage and credit card debt, as a proportion of income, changed over time.? Overall, Hyman has written an insightful book about the evolution of U. Debtor Nation is particularly relevant given the recent financial crisis and after reading it, it is clear that a complete story of the crisis must begin decades earlier.? I recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about U.

Katharine L. Her current research assesses the effects of public housing on community-level outcomes in the mid- to late-twentieth century.???

Debtor nation : the history of America in red ink

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Cite Citation. Permissions Icon Permissions. Hyman opens by examining the rise of installment credit in the s and its impact All rights reserved. Issue Section:.

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Debtor Nation: The History of America in Red Ink

You do not currently have access to this article. Download all figures. The American love affair with credit—and the new realities of economic constraint and income inequality. This enormous ocean of red ink has become big, big business.

Debtor Nation: The History of America in Red Ink

This is a fascinating, important, and at times ominous story. It begins around , when personal indebtedness existed at the fringes of the economy, the province of struggling merchants and loan sharks, and ends in our own time, when personal debt has become a cornerstone of economic and capital-market activity, and the center of the recent financial crisis.

In different ways at different moments, these factors greatly increased the profitability of consumer lending during the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. This growing profitability was not , he writes, the result of a sinister cabal or conniving scoundrels, but rather of countless choices that lie at the heart of a market economy. The first half of the book examines the origins of installment loans, national mortgage markets, and credit cards.

Although business owners historically extended informal loans to their customers, Hyman explains, most did so reluctantly. Recordkeeping was cumbersome. In the early s, only self-financed companies such as Sears, Roebuck or Singer Sewing Machine could afford to offer installment-buying plans—and even they generally lost money on such loans, making the losses up on larger volumes and the economies of scale that powered their business models.

In the s, however, lending practices and attitudes began to change. One factor behind this shift was the emergence of the finance company, which first appeared in the automobile industry, to help dealers fund their inventories and later, to help customers who could not pay cash for a car.

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Over time, some of these companies began diversifying, buying up the consumer debt of refrigerator, radio, vacuum-cleaner, and other appliance manufacturers. The breadth and magnitude of finance operations spread quickly, helping power both the mass production of durable goods and their consumption by millions of American families. By the end of the decade, companies such as General Motors and General Electric had absorbed retail finance as a core aspect of their businesses, and installment credit had spread throughout the retail world.

Not surprisingly, collective attitudes toward credit began to shift. By the eve of World War II, a quarter of American families were using installment loans to buy cars and other consumer durables.